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The interplay of structure and agency dynamics in strike activity

Darlington, RR 2012, 'The interplay of structure and agency dynamics in strike activity' , Employee Relations, 34 (5) , pp. 518-533.

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to build on the insights of mobilisation theory to examine the interplay of structure and agency dynamics in strike activity. It proposes to do so by investigating the 2007 36-hour strike undertaken by 2,300 engineering and infrastructure workers employed by the private consortium Metronet on the London Underground, focusing attention on the relationship between workers’ militancy, trade union leadership and left-wing politics within a highly distinctive and union favourable “opportunity structure” context. Design/methodology/approach – Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 24 RMT union informants within Metronet and the London Underground (including union members, reps, branch and regional officers); analysis was made of documentary industrial relations and trade union material; and personal fieldwork observation. Findings – Although favourable specific contextual and contingent factors served as both provocations and resources for strike action, notably in enhancing workers’ bargaining position and lending feasibility to a strike mobilisation approach, the role of trade union leadership and left-wing politics at every level of the union in collectivising workers’ experiences and aspirations in forms which directly encouraged combativity was also crucial. Research limitations/implications – The specificity of the case study limits the degree of generalisation that can be made to other industries. Researchers are encouraged to test the proposed analytical approach further. Originality/value – The paper provides case-study empirical evidence into an important arena of employment in the UK, contributes to our understanding of the multi-dimensional causes of strike activity; and adds an important political dimension to the analysis of collective mobilisation often neglected in both industrial relations and social movement literature.

Item Type: Article
Schools: Schools > Salford Business School
Schools > Salford Business School > Business and Management Research Centre
Journal or Publication Title: Employee Relations
Publisher: Emerald
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 0142-5455
Funders: British Academy
Depositing User: RR Darlington
Date Deposited: 07 May 2014 13:32
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2015 23:04

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